What is Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)?
Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) is an evidence-based treatment approach based on the idea that how we understand and use our emotions guides how we live. Some people develop unhealthy patterns of emotions that contribute to poor psychological and emotional well-being. From an EFT framework, emotions are adaptive or maladaptive. Whether or not an emotion is adaptive is not based on the type of emotion, but the context in which the emotion occurs. For instance, it is adaptive to feel fear if someone puts a gun to your head, to feel angry if someone violates or insults you, and to feel hurt if someone you love ignores you. Your emotions in these situations tell you what you need to protect yourself, giving you an opportunity to speak up against the violation or to let someone know what you need. Emotions signal what we need and what we should do in order to get what we need.
Emotions are maladaptive if they make us feel stuck, burdened, depressed, anxious, and/or behave in ways that move us further from our life goals, such as acting in hostile ways towards someone who did not appear to acknowledge you, or feeling paralyzed with fear prior to your exams. Maladaptive emotions develop for a number of different reasons that can be explored in therapy such as family role modeling, traumatic experiences or simply not having been in environments that supported exploration and accurate identification, verbalizing and use of our emotions.
How does EFT Work?
In Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) the therapist facilitates the client’s ability to process their emotions so that the emotions change and make way for other healthier emotions. They guide the client in connecting with and expressing all aspects of certain emotions they want to change. These components include thoughts, beliefs, metaphors, physical sensation, stories, needs, and motives. Such exploration leads to deeper insight about what one is struggling with and unveils new feelings. Processing of emotions also involves expressing some emotions that are difficult because they make one feel vulnerable and are hard to acknowledge, let alone feel — sadness, hurt, shame, etc. Being able to process and validate such feelings leads to building greater emotional resilience.
Several studies have found Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) is a highly effective treatment for many emotional and behavioural problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and PTSD.
Emotion Focused Couple Therapy
In Emotion-Focused Couple Therapy, each partner’s conflict is explored not simply as problems in communication, but as a product of different attachment and identity needs. Each partner has a certain emotional schema – or blueprint – through which they form and navigate their romantic relationships. If these emotional schemas are shaped in ways that are non-adaptive, or not fully compatible, the partners will experience a lot of distress. The form of distress for each partner depends upon what attachment and emotional needs are not met.
In Emotion-Focused Couple Therapy, the therapist guides the partners in identifying their respective attachment patterns and how these interact in a way that leads to a negative interaction cycle that they keep repeating. Greater awareness along with emotional activation and drawing out alternative responses to emotions by the therapist guides each partner to a place of healthy emotional attachment.